1. As expected, I got my phone call from a high school classmate inviting me back for a reunion. In related news, I've decided that I will be hosting a cookout that night.
2. I'm considering getting my third tattoo in a more visible location. I really need to write that Open Forum entry...
3. I'm going to teach a preaching class for my Association's licensed ministry program this fall.
4. When I was little, I had a lot of nightmares involving my house burning down.
5. My favorite cartoon ever is an MGM cartoon called "Magical Maestro" where a magician pretends to be an orchestra conductor in order to publically embarrass an opera singer. You really have to see it for yourself.
6. I like dipping grilled cheese sandwiches in ketchup.
7. I used to hate the song "When You Really Love a Woman" by Brian Adams just because my girlfriend at the time liked it. Now I just hate it.
8. In an act of Doing Something That Doesn't Involve Me Being The Pastor, I shall venture out this summer and play my guitar at open mic nights at a local coffeehouse.
Okay, now you go.
~Pentecost always passes too quickly. The red in the sanctuary is a novelty that never lasts long enough. Soon it'll be green, green, green, freakin' green.
~The Indians did everything right against the Tigers, and the Tigers did some things right but not many. I blame injuries. Yeah. Injuries. Especially since then they turned around and lost to the Devil Rays. THE DEVIL RAYS. Of course, I can blame Todd Jones for that. His stuff isn't always pretty and he never makes me feel secure when he comes in. But they trounced Tampa Bay last night while Boston seems unbeatable.
~So now it's summer, I guess. That means a lighter schedule for me, but also a time to think about September-May. Usually by fall I've already come up with ideas for a Christmas Eve sermon, a Lenten educational series, and maybe an Easter sermon. Why? Because I like these things to percolate for a while and they aren't the type of things that I want to come up with at the last minute.
~I sent in a deposit this morning to reserve a spot on a New Orleans work trip in the fall. I'm really looking forward to the chance to go down there and experience this for myself. It's one of those things, I think, that I need to see up close.
~I recently read an article where some guy visited a few churches that may declare themselves "emerging." He proceeds to rip on all the kids with tattoos, the loud rock music, the displays of art, and finishes up with "I'm so glad for my own nice comfortable church with hymns and well-dressed people and theology I agree with." It was the judgment of these members' outer appearances that had me nearly foaming at the mouth, though. Way to follow Jesus' example, buddy. People wonder why there are no young people in our churches...
~I have an Open Forum question related to the above. I'm just not able to word it right just yet.
Okay, that's enough. Later.
The tagline for this book is "Cutting through the Christian noise to the real message of Jesus." I wasn't sure what "Christian noise" meant, whether it would end up being Kristian Kommercialism or theology or maybe even many Christians' general noisy and judgmental approach to evangelism. I wasn't even totally sure if this would be a church book, evangelism book, theology book, something about engaging culture, or something even different from that. But I'd heard about this book from a few other blogs and figured that I'd give it a shot.
What this book does turn out to be, is largely an examination of a traditional Christian message and theology in light of the language used in the Gospels. This includes language such as "repent," "gospel/good news," "kingdom of God," "Lord," "Savior," and "Christ/Messiah." I was surprised and impressed that Martoia spends time putting these phrases in a Roman context. He explains how these terms would have been heard by people used to hearing about the kingdom of Caesar, the good news of Caesar as Lord and Savior and Anointed, and that when a new king took the throne, people were told to "repent," that is, reorient their loyalty toward the new regime. I'd heard most of that before, but Martoia's audience is different...he is writing, I think, for an Evangelical audience that hasn't heard any of this; that has grown up thinking that the whole gospel/good news is "believe in Jesus and go to heaven/avoid hell."
Martoia structures his book around conversations that he has with two friends of his, Phil and Jess. It's unclear whether these are real people or if he just wants to present his ideas in a different format, a la McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. Nevertheless, his friends are at first scandalized by these alien ideas, but it gives Martoia a jumping-off point to explain what he means.
I have some issues with this book. Maybe he'll ease some of them as I keep reading.
~Martoia suggests that Jesus is first calling Israel to repentance for forgetting who they are. That's the first time I've heard his message of the kingdom put that narrowly. There are parts of Matthew and Mark that lend themselves to this view, but there are many others that work against it. Certainly, Jesus was in part looking to critique and reform his own tradition, but when he says, "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand," it isn't clear that he is only meaning that for Israel (especially since Roman non-Jews might have had a much stronger reaction to such a proclamation). Which brings me to my second issue...
~Martoia goes a traditional route of pitting Jesus against all of Judaism. The Jews are presented as overly legalistic, exclusivist, unspiritual jerks that Jesus swoops in and makes mad by his free-wheeling maverick welcome of everybody. One really has to search for acknowledgment that Jesus himself came from a Jewish heritage; acknowledgment of those passages that suggest that he is engaging in self-critique or that he actually is seeking to reform some Jewish practices rather than throw out the whole thing and present something new. At the same time, Martoia has yet to truly explore how angry the use of terms such as "kingdom of God" would have made the Romans. So far, he's been spending most of his time focusing on Jesus vs. The Jews.
~We need more endnotes, man. I want to see where the idea that Jesus is calling on Israel to repent comes from. Later on, I want to see who these other Jewish rabble-rousers are who made their own "triumphal entries" into Jerusalem. Still later, I want to see where Judaism lifts up certain passages from Isaiah as being about some distant future reality rather than a more immediate exilic context. The endnotes are pretty scarce; half of them are scripture references. I'd be interested in checking out his sources for some of his claims. It's not that I don't trust him...I just want to see where he gets them.
Martoia presents some good material, and this book is the first in a while that I've needed to slow down and spend some time with. He comes at the material from a slightly different angle from where I've heard before. His book's intended audience will at least be given the opportunity to wrestle with these things. Still, I'd like to see where some of these things come from.
More later, probably.
Yesterday, Jason Michaels robbed Craig Monroe of a home run. But then later Monroe hit another one that Michaels didn't have a chance of grabbing.
You didn't know who would win until the final out. That'll probably be the case all season and in the post-season (sorry, Chicago and New York).
Today, it's Sabathia vs. Verlander.
This will be awesome.
I now have to wait an extra week to see how everything turns out on The Sopranos. Last week's was pretty good...A.J. attempts suicide but finds that he can't follow through. The entire episode seemed to focus on the role of psychotherapy in various characters' lives: Tony with Melfi, Melfi's own therapy, and A.J.'s problems. In that vein, Carmella had a pretty jerkface moment when she blamed Tony for A.J.'s depression issues: "It's the Soprano curse. It's definitely not from my family." Tony ended up voicing my and Mrs. Jeff's response perfectly, which isn't suitable to reprint here. And things took a decidedly bad turn between the New Jersey and New York families after Tony does what one would expect him to do after a New York guy said some inappropriate things to Meadow.
We're going to see the third Pirates movie tomorrow. It's supposed to be longer than the second, and the second seemed long. A long movie shouldn't seem long. I maintain that I liked the ghost story in the first better than the sea monster story of the second. But this one is supposed to feature a huge pirate/navy showdown, so hopefully that'll be good.
The new Modest Mouse album is awesome.
Around the web, here's Blake Lewis and Doug E. Fresh.
Eden Seminary hosts an alumni event every spring after graduation. They may alter that slightly next year, but for now this is how they're doing it. Alumni from the five most recent graduating classes (excluding the ones from a few days prior) are invited back for a time of reflection, renewal, and reunion. I didn't intend for all those to start with the same letter, but there you go.
Anyway, our time this year has focused around our sense of call and evaluating it in terms of what our current ministry contexts demand of us. The metaphor that our main presenter has used is geology: what are our diamonds, our stones, and our sand? Diamonds are our joys, triumphs, and gifts. Stones are our disappointments, failures, and growing edges. Sand is what causes us to drag our feet...what might we be avoiding or causes us to move slower than we ought?
I just got out of a session on ministry "hacks." Hacks is understood as shortcuts; resources or actions that may help us work more efficiently in our settings. Some mentioned an organization to join, others mentioned ways to structure the church's governance, still others remarked about how important it is to be a part of something where you aren't seen as The Pastor.
The whole thing has been an excellent way to reflect and to decompress, if only for a day or two. It's always a joy to come back here, and I've experienced a few moments of complete peace. The first was when the St. Louis skyline appeared over the hill for the first time on the drive in. It felt so comfortable and familiar. The second was looking up at the spiers of the Press Building and recalling the moment in which I did that after passing my second-level oral; feeling affirmed in my call and like I'd just conquered the world.
At the same time, I remarked to someone earlier today that the more time passes, the more I see this place as nice to visit, but then I go home. That's important, I think. I'm no longer tied to this place as I once was; I no longer feel the need to ask in each new ministerial challenge, "What Would Eden Do?" I think every seminary graduate--no matter what school--asks that the first few months or even years out. But as pastors begin to find their own voices and realize that they actually didn't learn all they needed to know during those 3-4 years or longer and begin to learn and love their people and their new communities, this is what happens.
Eden will always be an oasis of sorts for me, but it's no longer my home. And that's okay.
Okay, so we went to my brother's graduation this past Sunday, which was about an hour and 45 minutes away. As we got closer to home, I noticed the time creeping toward 9:00 and the start of The Sopranos. Mrs. POC said, "Sorry. I thought we'd be home in time for the beginning." I thought it was no big deal; that I wouldn't miss anything too huge and I could catch up as the episode went on. We walked in at 9:15 or so, and I flipped it on to find all the characters sitting around moping. And then Silvio said something like, "I can't believe Chrissy's gone." Holy crap! We had to expect a bigger character's death, but who really could've seen that? I did call Christopher getting whacked, though. So the rest of the episode is Tony reflecting on the loss. By the end he was ecstatic over it. It was a darker episode all the way around. And I missed Entourage because I was on the phone with a seminary buddy afterwards talking about how crazy the Sopranos episode was.
Mrs. POC and I are not the best about watching new episodes of Scrubs on Thursdays, but we were able to catch the two last shows of the sixth season last night. I get the way they set it up, but I'm sick of J.D. and Elliot's...thing. They keep finding excuses to end up together knowing full well that they suck at being a couple. There's more real life in that than anyone realizes, but still. I yelled at the screen a little bit.
Been listening to some older Decemberists.
Around the web, here's a funny/creepy video about a unicorn named Charlie.
But on the other hand, a man who represented such hatred and abuse to some is now, post-mortem, receiving that hatred and abuse himself. Consider so-called "new atheist" Chris Hitchens' comments. A man who claims that religion inspires hatred demonstrates clearly that you can show hatred just fine without it. I'm in agreement with his basic point that the media could have done better than Falwell for soundbites, but it's possible to do that without lapsing into the same vitriolic tone that Falwell himself used. You can find similar comments across the internet from groups that he spent so much time villifying. The cycle never breaks, and these notions of loving one's enemy and extravagant welcome begins to look like a bunch of empty platitudinous crap.
Seems like we're really not so different or above one another after all. Maybe that's Falwell's gift to us.
Meanwhile, if you think Jerry Falwell exhibited such hateful behavior, then do better.
So our keynote speaker was touted beforehand as an expert on church vitality. I hadn't heard too much about him, but I was willing to give him a chance. Here's a handful of words and phrases that he used:
- Organic community
- Local context
I sat there beaming through the whole thing. Here I was at a UCC gathering where I'd previously ranted and complained on this blog about the absence of such terms in our denomination's conversation, and here they all were. I went to a workshop in the afternoon that talked all about assessing the local congregation's story and strengths in order to minister to a local context. All this from a national staffperson!
Admittedly, I'd done all this ranting and complaining without really checking out UCCVitality. Apparently it's all there. It's been there all along.
So I left with hope. I also left eating a modest plate of crow, because I decided to leave a little early and thus couldn't finish it there. Thankfully they had take-out containers, so I could finish later.
There's more to say, but it's Sunday morning, it's Mother's Day, and my brother graduates college this afternoon. So it'll all have to wait.
The Sopranos this week featured A.J. a lot. He turns from mopey and depressed back to partying with frat guys. But as it turns out, these frat guys run a gambling ring. The show has hinted at him following in his dad's footsteps before, so one has to wonder if this is the big turn. Chris and Paulie get back into it, and Chris falls off the wagon again with his drinking, leading to the untimely death of the writer who helped him through AA. It wasn't totally surprising...Chris tended to beat on him a lot. But in this scene, Chris was about to spill all sorts of stuff about Adrianna and Ralphie, so the guy probably would have ended up dead anyway. I commented to Mrs. POC afterwards that someone has died in every new episode so far.
Entourage has gone in a direction I didn't expect...at least not this quickly. Amanda is apparently gone after Vince accuses her of stalling on getting a movie that he really wanted. This comes after Vince comments to his friends that "Ari wouldn't have done this." All this takes place on Yom Kippur, which produces some funny/painful moments between Ari and his family when he tries to do business in the middle of services.
This week I dug up a mixed CD that includes Kansas' Dust in the Wind.
Around the web, Brant writes about his experience with a mime. It's not what he writes but how he writes that gets me.
"Sometimes as pastors, we like to think that ministry is the only calling in our lives (as if each person only has one call at a time). It's the one that is tied most explicitly to God and what God wants us to do. It's easy to see: we're in a place that hopefully has dedicated itself to the worship of and service to God. But when we do this, we're short-changing ourselves and our families. When we think of pastoral ministry as our only calling, we can neglect our calls to be spouses, parents, siblings, sons or daughters, and friends. God would be mighty disappointed in us if we took this attitude."
Something like that. All my recent thinking about home offices and the inevitability of Miniature POCs inspired me to type this.
So all you pastor-types who may possibly one day maybe perhaps consider me for this task, that's what I'm gonna say. And some other stuff. But also that.
I live in the parsonage 200 feet away from where I work. Every once in a while there's a slight overlap, but folks are actually very good about respecting boundaries and all that good stuff.
This parsonage is old school. It's one of those houses with a separate door to a room designated The Pastor's Study. So back in the day, the pastor did work from home and there was quite an overlap. Actually, "back in the day" was up until around 1992, when an office was added to the church.
The Pastor's Study is actually quite large. Bookshelves wrap around on three walls, and this because a former pastor couldn't fit all his books in the older Pastor's Study down the hall. They actually added this room because of this other guy's books. Seriously.
I have not used the Study as a study. There is a big metal desk that is basically stuck there, so I went ahead and set my old old old computer on it. Thus far, I've used it to set up my instruments and make lots of noise. It's also been a storage area. Love those shelves.
Recently I've begun to rethink my setup. I do a lot more work at home nowadays, because my computer at my church office is a glorified paperweight. So I lug liturgy books and commentaries back and forth to type bulletins and sermons on a computer that works.
I've actually enjoyed working at home, a lot more than I thought I would. I can't totally explain why, but it might just boil down to some weird mental thing of mine where I welcome a change after doing the same thing for so long.
And that's when I decided to start cleaning the Study.
I cleaned most of it yesterday. The shelves are pretty clear now, and to my sinuses' delight I've kicked up a lot of dust while vacuuming. I rearranged my instruments, I've started to replace posters with actual framed things. I cleaned the desk. I finally set up some of my He-Man figures. I even set up a coffeemaker. Now the room is starting to look like Rev. Hipster Doofus actually does work down there.
The eventual plan is to get a laptop. That way we have two computers in case Mrs. POC and I both need one, and I have more to do during my office hours at the church.
But the big question that I'm now wrestling with in relation to all of this is: do I move the books?
It wouldn't even have to be all of them. It could just be all my commentaries and liturgy stuff. It would be pretty cool to see all my books on those shelves...obviously it won't be like the former pastor's Library of Christian Congress or whatever, but it would certainly make the new workspace more cozy.
And with that comes a bigger question: what's my church office for? I'm beginning to see a shift in my thinking on this. It used to be that I saw the church office as the place where I did everything church-related. Before my office computer died, all my work was done there: studying, visits, everything. That was definitely on purpose. I hated bringing my work home. My work stayed there. The new wrinkle lately, besides needing a functional computer, has been just wanting to be home more and not caring so much about such strict boundaries. Eventually, there will be Miniature POCs running around, and trudging back and forth across the parking lot is not always going to be conducive to what I need to be doing.
My current thought is that my church office will increasingly be a place for visits and appointments, my new study space for studying and writing. I'd hate for the church office to look so bare without the books (ideally I'd like to get rid of some of the furniture and bring in a table and couch...but space is a premium over there as it is).
So all of this is to share what I've basically already talked myself into doing. But I've been combing the blogosphere looking for other pastors' stories about the pros and cons of keeping a home office. There's very little out there. I'm sure that people in other professions would have plenty to contribute here as well. If you have a home office, how do you handle it? Do you set limits on your time spent there? If you have both, what do you do in each?
We saw Spiderman 3 last night, and for me the jury is still out. I didn't know how they were going to successfully juggle so many villains, because other superhero movies that try to do that...well...suck (see Robin, Batman and). The main focus on the movie is Peter's own inner torment, which worked so well in 2, but in this film is augmented by the black symbiote on his suit. This symbiote causes him, among other things, to begin wearing his hair like he's a member of The Cure, walking down the street goofily oogling all the women that pass by him, and say really cheesy things in a jazz club. All this because he's Mean Selfish Peter. Harry's part in this one is very good and James Franco--who was so stiff in 2--hits it very well. As cool of a bad guy as the Sandman is (and as good as Church is in the part), they probably could have cut his stuff and focused more on Venom. Topher Grace is awesome in this. And it wouldn't be a Sam Raimi film without an appearance by Bruce Campbell. And it wouldn't be a Marvel film without Stan Lee. Those parts were cool.
The Sopranos this week was...weird. In some respects it set some things up, but for the most part this was a slower, character development sort of episode. We had a lot of focus on how Vito's son is dealing with his dad's death and orientation, which included some unhelpful "advice" from both Phil and Tony along the lines of "Get over yourself and be a man." Obviously, it wasn't that simple for the kid, but still we watch as he's carted off to some sort of camp for "those kinds of kids." Besides that, Tony loses a lot of money to gambling and takes it out on Carmella and A.J. gets his heart broken. There was also a lot of focus on Hesh, which I don't think they've done before. And the ending seemed so anticlimactic.
Entourage, meanwhile, is starting to annoy me. No one could have been surprised last week when Vince ended up sleeping with Amanda, his hot female agent, and now they start to deal with complications. In addition, there was an incredibly obvious plot involving Drama, Chuck Liddell, and a Punk'd-like TV show. Finally next week we start to deal with the fight brewing between Ari and Amanda to be Vince's agent, and I'm sure that complications will play a role. So hopefully it'll get better.
I think I have a crush on Amy Winehouse.
Around the web, these Saturday Night Live shorts are freaking hilarious in a "What did I just watch?" sort of way:
A Business Meeting
Andy Popping Into Frame
1) Would you rather be the host or the guest? I've definitely been the guest more often than the host. There's definitely less stress when you're a guest: you just show up and eat all their food. But I've enjoyed being a host, more often when the set agenda of the evening is almost non-existent...you maybe plan a few little things, but forcing people into an overdone itinerary and forget it. So having rambled all that, I'll say host because I've had some of my best times at parties as a host.
2) When you are hosting, do you clean everything up the minute the guests go home? Will you accept help with the dishes? First part: heck no. I crawl into bed. Second part: you assume that people give a "no" answer? And I do accept help from my mechanical friend.
3) If you had the wherewithal, and I guess I mean more than money, to throw a great theme party, what would the theme be? I'm going with luau. Tiki torches, Hawaiian shirts, roast pig. The key is that all of this happens outside on a nice summer evening. We could freaking sit outside next to a grill for all I care. But this is a theme party, so let's throw in all that other stuff too.
4) What's the worst time you ever had at a party? Almost every party I went to in college. I had this thing about not drinking underage (and later this "if other Christians see you drink, they'll petition Jesus to send you to hell" thing...but I eventually got over that), and when my fraternity would throw parties I would sign up to guard the stairs near the back door, drink a root beer, and feel incredibly bored.
5) And to end on a brighter note, what was the best? There are a couple, but I'm going with a birthday party that we had for Mrs. Jeff's mom in seminary. She died ten or so years ago, but Mrs. Jeff likes to host these to help remember her. So this one year, we invited half the campus into our shoebox apartment, sang "Happy Birthday," had cake, told stories and jokes, imbibed. There wasn't an inch of free space, and none of us cared. It was fantastic. There was absolutely nothing forced about the evening at all. Like I said, I've had some of my best times as a host.
The UCC and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition filed a petition on May 1 with the Federal Communications Commission asking it to deny license renewals for two Fox-owned TV stations in New York because the stations’ owner, Rupert Murdoch, also owns The New York Post.
The FCC’s cross-ownership rule expressly prohibits newspapers and TV stations from being owned by the same entity.
The Rev. Sherry M. Taylor, the UCC’s Central Atlantic Conference’s Association Minister in New Jersey, is one of the petitioners.
“Fox’s common ownership of The New York Post, WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV harms me by sharply reducing the number of independent voices available to me,” Taylor writes. “Unless the licenses are denied, my right to access diverse programming will continue to be harmed.”
When I saw the headline, I thought that this would turn out to be some sort of complaint about a specific program that maybe offended a minority group or something else that might have mattered more to someone somewhere. No, this is about somebody's "right to diverse programming."
Is this a worthwhile cause? I guess this comes from some variant fear of an Orwellian nation or something...all that "we're only getting one point of view" stuff. Still, Somalian children are starving, countries aren't doing a damn thing about Darfur, people in my and your communities are losing jobs and homes, can't make rent money, can't afford medical attention, don't have food.
But my right to diverse programming will continue to be harmed.
Diverse programming vs. food distribution. Hmm.
Parts of the UCC are really taking up their crosses on this one.
It's official. Let's stop throwing up our hands when local churches continue to see the wider church as irrelevant. Or, whenever someone does, just point them back to this story.
I think about this every once in a while. This month I'm heading back to my college alma mater for graduation festivities and later a seminary reunion, both of which create an infinitely greater amount of excitement within me than pretty much any sort of invitation back to my high school could possibly create.
Let me clarify: I've recently been invited back to judge one-act plays and to speak to their FCA group. I once even strapped on a marching band drum again. The stuff that I was involved with that I enjoyed, I'll come back for. And I'm fortunate enough to have good friends from high school still in the area. But just a general gathering of classmates to relive and rehash all the artificiality, all the cruelty, all the BS that high school kids put each other through even though in theory we're now ten years older, wiser and more mature? I'll pass, thanks.
Some go just out of principle. They want to see if the head cheerleader or popular quarterback have bottomed out or they want to show others how successful they are or they want to go because they think they'll feel some deep regret if they don't. Nah. I got my own thing going, and I don't have anything to prove.
I'll go if given the right incentive. Like a free Jaguar for everyone who attends. Or the mere fact of our all being together again will magically produce a cure for cancer. Anything less, and I'll invite my actual high school friends over, have some dinner and wine, and actually enjoy myself.
In the meantime, Heidelberg and Eden await. And thinking about that makes me much happier.
Mark Driscoll is back on a lot of blogs after making a mountain out of a molehill with Bill Hybels. Driscoll is pastor of the 5000! 5000! 5000! - member Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Hybels the pastor of Willow Creek in Chicago. Here's the short version: at a church-planting conference, Driscoll and his crew contributed a video talking about what church-planters need to do and who they need to be. One of his main points is essentially "no chicks allowed." Right after this video was shown, Hybels got up to speak and began by saying, "After that video i would like to acknowledge that there are women in this room and they have spiritual gifts." Source from a guy who was there is here.
And if you can stand it, you can watch the video yourself here. Lowlights include men being able to have sex with their wives at least once a day, Jesus is not a gay hippy in a dress (seriously...who believes that?), and guys "we" have to reach are less concerned with church and more concerned with putting subwoofers in their "retarded" cars. I've been reading reactions around the blogosphere to this video and have seen no one pick up on the use of that word. I just found that point interesting.
Anyway, Mark's version is that Hybels had attacked him and his ministry and had banned the video from being distributed afterward, none of which is true. What Hybels said is above. Elsewhere, people testify to seeing people distributing the video at the door. Does Driscoll believe his hype that much nowadays?
Why'd I even mention this? I like writing responses to Driscoll's rants on occasion just to sharpen my own sword, so to speak. And here, I was amazed that such a view on marital sex is being propped up by such an influential pastor (who IS, I acknowledge, reaching a lot of young guys...if not with a limited view of gender roles and "acceptable manly behavior"). If there are married couples with such a sexual relationship out there, I applaud them. But statements like this have the potential to first set up false hopes and in extreme cases lead to abuse if a woman isn't "fulfilling her role." It's a terrible view of sex besides...in iMonk's critique, he calls it "sex as servicing the man." That ain't right, man.
Switching gears, Chris T. quotes an excellent article on the spiritual themes of The Sopranos.
There have been pop-culture portraits of mob kingpins descending into hell before, of course—think of Michael Corleone fading into shadow at the end of Godfather II. But the artistic temptation is always to make this fall splendid and Miltonic, a matter of a few grand and tragic choices rather than the steady accretion of small-time compromises, petty sins, and tiny steps downward that usually define damnation.
The Sopranos dares instead to explore the terrible banality of evil, depicting ordinary people held prisoner by their habits and appetites who choose hell instead of heaven over and over again, not with a satanic flourish but with an all-American sense of entitlement. Sin is never glamorized or aestheticized: The violence is brutal rather than operatic, the fornications and adulteries are panting and gross rather than titillating. The characters’ sins breed even physical dissolution: obesity, ulcers, hemorrhoids, constipation, cancer. The show offers a vision of hell as repetition, ultimately, in which the same pattern of choices (to take drugs, to eat and drink to excess, to rob and steal and bully and murder) always reasserts itself, and the chain mail of damnation—in which no sin is an island, and gluttony is linked to violence, sloth to greed, and so on slowly forges itself around the characters’ souls.
I love the above quote because it rightly observes that the show tends not to dramatize or add a nice glossy shine to its more violent and sexual aspects. There's no crescendo of music during a murder scene, no pretty tasteful slow-motion love scenes. Likewise there's no buildup of karma...someone finally catches some bad luck or makes a bad choice, but it's because the road they travel has always held that risk.
Take this past week's episode, which deals with Tony's gambling. He rides a stroke of good luck until it turns on him. At that point, he can't seem to get back on track, but at the same time he can't stop. It doesn't really occur to him that maybe giving up gambling might help him not lose money. No, his lifestyle can't allow him to stop.
Or take Little Vito's reaction to his dad's death. He turns goth, acts out in school. Both Phil and Tony try to sit him down and think that just telling him to "straighten up and be a man" will be enough. Lo and behold, it isn't because there are deeper-seeded emotional issues working that their culture's view of "manliness" chooses to ignore (hardcore Driscoll supporters, take note), i.e., it's just a matter of making threats and sending the kid to a boot camp. Never mind that Little Vito's problems all started because of other characters' homophobia and murder. Nothing changes because the real problem isn't dealt with.
I guess I was able to make a connection between these two subjects after all.